Maureen McTaggart travels to Brixton, flicks down the menu and gets a global view of the humble potato
The menu held no surprises for the onlookers peering over the shoulders of Zerita, Marcus and Sian as they painstakingly typed out their favourite mealtime treats for colleagues in Australia - burger and chips, chicken and chips and fish and chips.
The three six-year-olds from Loughborough Infants School in Brixton, complete their dietary advice column and, with a look of triumph, press the send button.
"It will now go down the telephone line and our friends in Australia will get it when we are asleep," explained Zerita.
The children were busy comparing the results of an international survey on food carried out with those from the Australian school. But instead of waiting for the post to arrive with the intelligence on the latest in antipodean eating habits, the youngsters were able to communicate promptly, despite the time differences, via electronic mail and the Internet.
Loughborough and 14 other primary schools in the Brixton City Challenge area have been linked up to the Internet through the Brixton Connections project. Funded by Brixton Challenge, the area regeneration agency, the schools have taken a giant step into the 21st century, aided by Pounds 39,000-worth of multimedia computers, modems and colour printers.
Phil Redman, the project's co-ordinator, says he always wanted to involve primaries in the new technologies that will enhance the employment prospects of pupils in a number of ways. "Familiarity with computers and graphical operating systems will prepare them for a world in which computers are used for everything from handling and communicating information to state of the art software currently used in industry. And this kind of system can also be used as a resource for teachers in preparing lessons."
Although more than 2,000 schools have joined the Internet since last year, Loughborough and its collaborators are among the first primary schools to have access to equipment that will allow them to communicate with different schools both locally and throughout the world using e-mail and the World Wide Web.
"Because the London borough of Lambeth is keen to develop links between its schools, it was fairly easy to get the money for equipment, but we did hit upon a snag when it came to funds for training," says Phil Redman. "Fortunately, Shirley Sylvester, our acting director of education at Lambeth agreed to give us the Pounds 10,000."
The schools have been on-line since September, but the system is not without its technical problems and human errors. Someone at Stockwell Infants, where the pupils had spent a lot of time preparing a topic on Diwali for a Festivals of Light project, pressed the wrong button and wiped out all the data on Sita and the 10-headed Ravana.
But Nicolas Mitchell, Stockwell's information technology co-ordinator, is not disheartened. He says the potential of the Internet is boundless but it is not infallible.
They have been using the World Wide Web to enhance the children's geographical and data-handling enquiry skills and have retrieved materials from Research Machines' Internet for Learning Service to use as classroom resources for work with Year 6 involving weather maps.
"Every day we find more and more useful information on the pages and have now established contact with a school in Malta, which we hope will turn into a successful relationship."
Under the guidance of their IT co-ordinators, several of the project schools have their own Web home pages with photographs and drawings, detailing the work they are doing using the Internet. And some have formed links with South Bank University, which allow them to use the university's equipment and European contacts for direct contact with schools in other countries.
"But above all," says Mr Mitchell, "as teachers, we are communicating more with one another. Before the Internet the only time we got together was at conferences. Now we can share ideas every day."
* Lambeth is keen to developlinks between its schoolsand businesses. Any organisation interested in sponsoring aschool to participatein the project can contactPhil Redman at Lambeth Education,Lawn Lane Centre, Lawn Lane, London SW8 1TU. Telfax: 44 171 926 8133. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgA "Brixton Connections" publicationis available (Pounds 4 with free updatein April). Cheques payable toLawn Lane Centre.
* Research Machines stand 131